Chemicals in clothing

While you know about toxins in pesticides, what about the ones in your clothes?
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03.What you can do

Our experts suggest that you:

  • Wash any new clothes twice before wearing, although washing won’t remove certain types of chemicals.
  • Shop for natural fibres, cotton, linen and wool, particularly for children.
  • Look for organic cottons, as well as natural and vegetable dyes.
  • Avoid products labelled stain-or water-resistant unless the manufacturer provides details of thechemicals or processes used.
  • If you do have concerns about or an injury from clothing or footwear, you can lodge a complaint with the ACCC on 1300 303 609.
  • The Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia (TFIA) are keen to hear about any experiences consumers have had with chemicals in clothing or footwear – email

Case studies

#1: Shoes that burned

A Victorian woman bought a pair of canvas and rubber ballet-style shoes from a large shopping centre in Melbourne. After she wore them in the rain she developed what appeared to be chemical burns on her feet where the shoes had made contact. 

After being put in contact with Monash University she was shown photos of other people who’d had a similar reaction to the same brand of shoes. 

It’s believed the shoes were treated with a chemical that is used as a fungicide and rubber accelerator – which was easily released when the shoes got wet.

#2: Hives all over

A Sydney mum bought a new school T-shirt for her 10-year-old son from the school uniform shop. he put it on and headed off to school. 

She says that by early afternoon he had a lump on his neck, and not long after his entire back was covered in hives.

By the time he arrived home in the evening his mother was shocked to discover he had hives all over his body – what she describes as “clumps and welts” – and some were as big as his hand. 

He and his mother believe they were directly caused by wearing the new shirt without washing it first.

#3: A CHOICE member's experience

Lynette, a long time CHOICE member contacted us after buying a pair of new bowling shoes recently. She says after wearing them for just a few hours she was in great discomfort and had trouble walking. She says that her feet felt like they were burning and that they looked that way when she took the shoes off. She says she hasn’t worn the shoes again and that her feet are still recovering.

Lynette contacted the supplier and was told they hadn’t hear of any other similar issues with the shoes. Since then she has been at a loss as to what to do. After reading the CHOICE article she has now contacted the ACCC for lodge a complaint.


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